Sunday 6 December 2015

10 curries in 10 days - Shimokitazawa curry fes (festival)

Japan loves it's festivals.  It has festivals for everything.  From the traditional such as the Kawagoe festival (which I attended last year) and the Oeshiki festival (which I also went to last year) to the not so traditional such as the Nikufes (which, of course, I went to also!).  Well, last month Shimokitazawa held their annual curry festival (official website can be found here, the 4th edition) which went for 10 days.  Now the Japanese also love their curry and rice and this year over 150 restaurants, bars and cafes were taking part in this week-long celebration of spice.  Now this festival is a little different to your usual festival.  It is not held in one location, but you get your hands on a map which has details of each of the participating venues and details of their special curry dishes that they will be serving (from what I understand it cannot be a dish that they regularly serve) and make your way to your chosen curry haven and go curry crazy!

I decided that I would write about it and thought that I would need a decent pool of dishes to write about so decided to get through 1 curry per day.  Now this is not recommended for you all as by the end of the 10 days, my bed smelled of curry and my students stopped taking my lessons as I became a living, breathing steaming walking pot of curry with it seeping out of my pores.  Now I am a single man, but if I wasn't, I am sure that I would have been by the end of the 10 days.  So, again, don't try this at home! 

I must apologise here as some of the photos are not the clearest, but the lighting in some places was not the best for taking photos and I only use a mobile phone (at this stage) to take my photos.

Curry number 1 was a chicken nanban curry from Bar Loaded.  For those of you who don't know what chicken nanban is, it is fried chicken dipped in vinegar and covered with tartar sauce, a Fukuoka speciality.  Now it is not the healthiest thing to eat, but man, does it taste good!

This curry is cooked for 6 hours so the curry has a beautiful rich flavour (the curry has chicken as the base).  The richness and saltiness of the curry provided a very nice contrast with the freshness of the tar tar sauce!  A good way to start curry fes!

Next up was an offering from Publion.  

This one was a nice beef curry.  The beef used was beef tendon which tasted like it had been slow cooked as it was nice and tender.  The curry base was a tomato base and with beautifully flavoured with spices.  I enjoyed the occasional explosion of flavour as I bit down on the occasional whole cumin seed.

The next curry was from a little cafe called 46ma shiro kuma.   Now the information on this curry stated that it was a 2-time winner of the Shimokitazawa curry of the year award so i had high expectations going here.

But I left disappointed.  The overwhelming flavour of this curry was tomato.  Way too much tomato.  The flavour of the spices were not strong enough and there were 2 small pieces of chicken under all of that tomato curry.

 I was determined not to be put off and selected a lamb curry from the craft beer bar Ushitora as my next one.  I love lamb, so this one didn't need too much thought!

Now the description of this one said that it was "simmered in a generous amount of craft beer".  I was worried that it would have too much of a beer taste and would overpower the richness of the curry and lamb.  I needn't have worried though as the flavour was all richness.  It was a nice thick curry that had a real home-cooked feel and taste to it.  After the disappointment of 46ma shiro kuma, this had got me back on track and motivated again!  It was going to be difficult for whoever had to follow this one.

Old rock bar Back Page (which also has a lot of antique American vintage goods) were chosen as the next selection (it was pretty difficult choosing from over 150 options!).  Theirs was described as a "Nostalgic Hakata chicken curry, just like the old days".  Now, I had nothing to use as a measuring stick as I had never tried a traditional Hakata chicken curry, so I was going in with a blank canvas.

It was rich, a standard Japanese style curry, but a little too salty for me.  If you like your salt, and lots of it, then this one is for you.

My next choice was one of the non-standard curry offerings.  Ms Claudia is an Italian restaurant in Shimokitazawa and they had chosen to do a keema curry margherita pizza.  Sure, I was up for the challenge!

This one was nice!  The richness of the keema and the mozzarella cheese was in contrast to the herby freshness of the basil.  A little more basil would have been nice, but I guess the theme of the event was curry....

I selected a curry from Matsu to Eda, a new little cafe on the north side as the next dish.  Their speciality for the festival was a medley of chicken curry and keema curry.

The chicken curry had a sweet honey flavour to it, and some nice heat.  The keema was a dry curry that also had chickpeas in it.  This was another good one.

I had not put a lot of thought into my next choice so I just went for one that I happened to be walking past.  Mother's Ruin is a Shimokitazawa mainstay.  It is a funky bar/cafe on the south side of the station.  Their curry was a rich, mild tasting curry with a scoop of potato salad on top.  (this is one of the photos that didn't turn out so good, which does mean that the atmosphere is good for a date!)

Not bad, a little plain, but definitely not the worst I had tried.

I was now 8 down and 2 to go and surprisingly I had not gotten tired of eating curry.  I guess you can put that down to the fact that there was so much variety on offer.

The next one was another of the non-standard offerings.  This time I made my way to a nice little bar / cafe called &ROLL.  Their dish was a Thai yellow curry risotto!

The first mouthful of this one was a revelation!  The mild Thai curry flavour was perfectly matched with the cheesy risotto.  Superb!  I was disappointed when I finished as I knew I would now have to wait another year to try this again!

The 10th and final curry was one that I had been eying off for a while.  It was a curry from LanCul which is an English conversation cafe / bar.  Their offering was a vegetable coconut keema curry.

Now this was a light, mild curry, one might say it was a curry perfect for a lady!  It was nice, but I prefer my curries full, bold and rich.  Having said that, it was a nice way to finish curry fes.

So, what curry was the winner in my eyes?  Well I couldn't separate 2 of them.  The 2 best curries, in my eyes (and tastebuds) were the chicken nanban curry from Bar Loaded and the Thai yellow curry risotto from &ROLL.  They were the 2 standouts!

I had made it through 10 curries in 10 days and now it was time for my body to recover!

So, if you live in Tokyo or are going to be in Tokyo in the month of October, get along to Shimokitazawa and get your curry on!

Thanks for reading.  Please leave a comment below and sign up with your email address to the right side of the page or bookmark and come back and visit again!  See you next time!

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Nihondaira and the 1,159 steps of the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine - Shizuoka part 4

This is the 4th and final post about a recent trip to Shizuoka.  You can find part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here .

Morning on the final day of the trip to Shizuoka was loudly announced by my alarm.  Luckily the check-out time was a very generous 11am so we didn't have to rush.  Breakfast was another bowl of ramen at Ichiran before heading back to speak to the lovely ladies at the tourist information office.  Our plan for the day was to head to Nihondaira which is a scenic sport that overlooks the port city of Shimizu (an on a clear day you can get a good view of Mount Fuji) and then to catch a ropeway across to Kunozan Toshogu Shrine which was the original resting place of the great Ieyasu Tokugawa after he died.  His body was later transported to his current resting place at the Nikko Toshogu Shrine.

The ladies told us which bus we needed to catch and where to find it and we set about waiting for the bus to come.  As we were sitting there something on the bus information sheet caught my eye.  It stated that if you approach the Shrine from the other direction there are 1,159 steps to climb to reach the top......  Well that changed everything!!  We went back to the tourist office ladies and asked which bus to catch to go to our new starting point.  Armed with this information we walked to the other side of the train station to the new bus stop and pretty soon we were on our way.  We had to change buses once but about 25 minutes later we were there.

This was our goal for the day.....

Soon we were at the bottom of the steps.

It looked daunting and intimidating.  As we stood there looking up at it, an 80ish year old lady walked past us coming down the steps.  It dawned on us that she must have climbed the steps to be able to come back down them....... That was all of the motivation we needed and we took our first steps up.

The start was quite gentle, but a look up to our left showed us what was still to come.


and up

and up we went.

We stopped halfway for a brief break and took some time to admire the view.

The break was all too brief and Tetsuya was soon cracking his whip.  "Don't worry, it's not too much further" we were reassuringly told by a guy on his way back down.  He was right, and before we knew it we had reached the top!

A glance back down showed what we had just been through.

That's as many switchbacks as a mountain climb in the Tour De France!  My legs were burning just as if I had climbed the Alp d'huez!!  It was time for a drink and a pause to enjoy the view.

We passed by the shrine without going in.  To enter the Shrine it costs 500 yen or 800 yen if you want to have a look around their museum.  My legs, however, were feeling each of the 1,159 steps, so we got straight onto the ropeway and headed over to Nihondaira.  It was about a 5 minute ride and the views are spectacular.

We reached Nihondaira and walked over to the lookout point and were greeted with a scenic view out over Shimizu and it's port. 

Unfortunately the skies were not clear enough for us to be able to see Mount Fuji clearly.  Oh well, another reason to make another trip back to Shizuoka in the future!

We were now getting later into the afternoon and we decided to make our way back to Shizuoka for the trip back to Tokyo.  Waiting at the station for our train to arrive, I started to hear, ever so faint, a high pitched whine.  As I got my camera out, it started getting louder and louder and closer and closer.  Have you ever wanted to know what a bullet train looks like from the train platform?  A little like this!

Pretty soon our bullet train arrived at a much more leisurely pace and a little over an hour later we were back in Tokyo.

Well, that does it for another trip.  I hope you enjoyed reading that series of posts.  I sure brought back some good memories, and some incredible ones too.  The highlight was definitely Meiji Tunnel and walking along the old Tokaido!  That will remain fresh in my mind for a long time.

Thanks again for reading.  Leave a comment below if you enjoyed reading and enter your email address in the subscription box on the right side of the blog to receive an email notification whenever I upload another post.  Until next time, bye.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Utsunoya, Meiji tunnel and the Old Tokaido - Shizuoka Part 3

This is part 3 of a post about a recent trip to Shizuoka.  You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.  

It took us about 75 minutes to cover the distance to Utsunoya and the first thing we saw was the "Row of Houses", a stretch of old Edo Era houses that served as resting places for those travelling along the Tokaido.

As those of you who read regularly know, I love these little old towns that provide a glimpse into the past.  The town was deadly quiet and respecting the silence and taking it all in, Tetsuya and I made our way along the street wordlessly.  Nestled among the houses were a couple of businesses.  I think the one below is a soba restaurant

and this one a shop of some kind.

We got to the top of the street and turned around to take a look at the village spread out below us.

We were getting closer and closer to today's final goal and the anticipation was building.  Working our way up a path that lead away from the village we came across these signs.

We were approaching the Meiji tunnel that goes under the Utsunoya Pass.  The Meiji tunnel was originally completed in 1876 as part of the Meiji Era government's efforts to make the passage from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo) easier.  At the time it was Japan's first toll tunnel.  It was made of wood and, unfortunately, was destroyed in a fire in 1896.  It remained closed until 1904 when it was re-opened as a brick tunnel.

We approached it and I don't know about Tetsuya, but I was holding my breath in anticipation. 

Suddenly we rounded a corner, and there it was.

It was an amazing thrill to see something so historic and to think that we were just about to walk through the same tunnel that people had done so almost 140 years ago and a tunnel that had been so important at the time, I must say, I had shivers of excitement running down my spine.

We stepped inside and we were suddenly enveloped in a cloud of silence.  The only sound you could hear was the sound of water dripping from the ceiling onto the floor.  I turned around and looked back at the entrance we had come in moments before

and then looked ahead to what we had in front of us.

I think most people would forgive me if I said that at that point, things were a little spooky.  But I had Tetsuya with me, and he's a big guy, so I was fine.......until Tetsuya looked at me and said "This is pretty spooky"......

But we pushed on, the breeze blowing through the tunnel into our faces (I would say blowing through our hair, but both of us don't have much hair happening on top!) and soon enough we exited the other side.

The light was starting to fade now and there was one more thing that I wanted to see before dark fell and it was back on the other side of the tunnel so we turned around and walked back into the tunnel again

and out the other side.  The second time through was just as good as the first!  Walking back around to the left we came across this sign.

The arrow on the right was the one that I was after so we continued on and suddenly, without warning, it was there.

The old Tokaido, the most important of the 5 old Edo period highways, and we were just about to set foot on one of the only original sections that remain today!  Step after step, the shivers continued running up and down my spine.  Now walking through the tunnel had been amazing, but now we were walking along a path over 400 years old!  The history that had passed along here and the sights that these trees had seen!  Who knows who had walked along this path before us!

We got to the top of the (more recently installed) steps and turned a right bend onto this.

Absolutely incredible!  I stood still with a huge silly smile on my face and looked at Tetsuya and said "This is why I do what I do, for moments just like this".

The light was starting to fade so we pushed on, wanting to be able to finish this experience in daylight so we could see everything.

All too soon it was over and we had reached the other side.  The walk had taken about 20 minutes but it had seemed like a lifetime.  Every step had been an experience and an adventure.  This had been one of the most wonderful moments I have had since I started writing this blog.

However, darkness was upon us and we made our way back to the more modern highway and back to Shizuoka by bus.

We decided to go back to the Oden street that we had been to the previous night and chose a different restaurant this time.

We walked into this restaurant and the man looked at us with a panicked expression and said "No English....".  Tetsuya responded in Japanese and he breathed a sigh of relief!  The food here was good also.

With our bellies half full we decided to try one last restaurant.

The food at this one was probably the best of the three that we tried although after a few drinks already I forgot to take some photos here.  However, the owner did take my camera and took this photo.....


I will end this post on that note.  It had been an incredible day that had started at Mariko-juku, moved on to Utsunoya and finished in a haze.  What remained with me, clear as crystal were the moments walking through the tunnel and along the Tokaido.  A very special day.

Thanks again for reading.  Please leave a comment below and check back soon for the final part of the trip to Shizuoka.  Until next time, bye!